Editor’s Note: This article originally published in September 2015. Dates and other data points have remained unchanged from the original piece.
To burn the candle at both ends. That’s the advice Melissa Pohlig gives to young adults, also known as millennials, everywhere. Originally her father’s advice, she says that millennials should banish the fear of overextending oneself at this age.
By becoming more involved in the industry, in other projects, groups and organizations, one gets the exposure and experience needed to succeed. But, most importantly, is the feeling of fulfillment, and what millennials are really looking for to feel like they’re making a difference in their lives and the world.
Pohlig, who is a product manager of the Solutions Team at SEI, also highlights the importance that advisors seek out the “HENRYs” or millennials that are already working in high-paying professions, but who don’t have enough assets to be categorized as high-net-worth. (HENRY is an acronym for High-Earning, Not Rich Yet.)
We sat down with Pohlig to find out how advisors can reach millennials and what she is doing to help bridge that gap.
LHP: Why did you choose a career in insurance or financial services?
MP: I knew that financial services was a rewarding career, but my love for it grew when I interned one summer at SEI.
I also like that, in our specific unit, we work with financial advisors, so I felt like I was working with small business owners and entrepreneurs like my dad. To me, helping them build better businesses and grow that business, that was my connection to the small business.
Our whole gig is basically that the advisors outsource their operation, technology and investment management to us, so that they can create better businesses. I like the business philosophy of, “If they’re successful, we’re successful.” We are their business partners. To me, I just really bought in to that model and I think it’s a win-win.
LHP: Describe what you do.
MP: I always laugh because if you look at my LinkedIn, technically my role is I’m a product manager on the solutions team, which means absolutely nothing to anyone. Basically, I always assume that they give you these broad titles because it’s kind of a catch-all for all that we do in product development. What our team does is we look across the industry and ask, “What are advisors having issues with that they’re facing today?”
We do our own research and develop our opinions. Rather than admiring the issue, we actually do something about it, like my boss says. We build some type of program or develop some type of product that will help them address the issue.
LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.
MP: This always makes me sound like a geek, but I’m going to say it anyways. Earlier this year, we launched a workflow program and I consider that my biggest achievement at SEI.
Basically the issue that we were trying to solve for was this: Advisors use a lot of different types technologies and they are not sure how to leverage them. These advisors are small businesses, and they’re trying to become more efficient without adding more staff. Those two things combined, we were trying to figure out a way to leverage the technology to create more efficiency and help people with the integration.
Going back about 18 months ago when we first kicked off this project, our idea was basically, “Let’s take the high-end workflows that you would see in typical big corporations and sales forces, and let’s bring it to our 6,500 small business advisors via their CRM,” allowing them to be more efficient with the staff that they have, allowing them to be more efficient with the technology that they have.
We went through a million project plans, feedback, testing … it was a very long process. We finally launched this past May, and we had our first group of clients go through the program. They saw spectacular results with their businesses in terms of making their business more efficient. I find it very rewarding that I was able to build a program that has helped entrepreneurs. We have a beta client that doubled their numbers in financial plans and client meetings because of these workflows.
LHP: What is the biggest challenge that you see in the industry or what is the one thing you would change?
The easiest way to explain this is by using the following example: Whenever I meet someone, they usually ask, “What do you do for a living?” I usually kind of expect their reactions, but I tend to simplify the conversation and say, “I work in financial services.” And their eyes typically glaze over and the discussion moves on to the next topic.
I think that reaction is a mixture of the bad image this industry has because it’s been tainted by Wall Street and all the press they’ve gotten over the years about bad transactions and weird behavior. But also I think that a lot of people who aren’t in the industry think a job in finance is a desk job, where you are processing paper and crunching numbers all day and it’s not an engaging career.
I think the biggest issue is that we need to do more to attract the younger generation to this industry from an employment standpoint. We should create more careers to attract and retain millennials. We are brand loyal to the core for everything. We’re also do-gooders. We want to feel like we’re making a difference in the world.
And if we were to create more empowering career opportunities, we could pump new blood into the industry, and solve these retention issues people are seeing. I think I’m a good example of that, but I don’t think workflows are the most exciting thing to work on. I do feel empowered because I’m helping small business owners. But also, I am very loyal to SEI because I feel valued at my job.
LHP: What is the biggest opportunity that you see in the industry?
MP: Financial advisors should be looking at millennials and serving this market. This is actually the area of focus right now for my newest project: figuring out what millennials value and what engages them to work with a financial advisor.
This is a big issue in the industry, not because advisors should only work with millennials because they’re the ideal clients; obviously, you should also work with boomers, the retirement base and other typical clients. But the reason advisors should focus on millennials is because they’re forward-thinking.
There’s so much stuff going on right now with acquisitions and mergers, robo-advisors, the list goes on. I think that the industry is changing. If you can build something that caters to this group that is forward-thinking, then I think it can be scaled across any generation. If you are able to deliver something to this group, you are going to be able to scale it across all demographics and it’s going to be a forward way of delivering advice to the marketplace.
LHP: What do you think millennials are looking for in an insurance advisor? How can advisors best serve this market?
MP: I think millennials are super diverse, so you can go a million ways. In our research, I’ve zeroed on this group called “The Henrys.” The “Henrys” stands for “high-earning, not rich yet” group. These are the go-getters who are coming in into high-paying professions, but don’t have a lot of assets yet.
Advisors typically go for people with more assets, but the idea here is that the “Henrys” could be your ideal client. For example, debt management is very high in their list of needs because they have a high education, and retirement planning is another big need.
These “Henrys” are also about to go through a lot of life changes: marriage, house-buying, their first kid. I would say a good example of these “Henry” types is a young doctor that is ending his fellowship and is about to go from making $40,000 to six figures. The doctor might not have a ton of assets, but he or she will be a good client down the road.
The “Henrys” need help to get back on track financially, but they don’t realize they need it nor that advisors would even pay attention to them. The areas of the advisors’ business that I would focus on to cater to them is threefold:
- Lead generation and engagement are going to be key here:
Millennials don’t even realize that they need an advisor. Breaking through and finding a way to engage them in the first place is important. It’s just not enough just getting in front of them, is engaging them.
- Fee structure and product packaging:
We are the most educated generation to date and we’re hyperaware of our decisions. Advisors are going to have to cater not only to the fact that we want to know what we’re paying for, but also to the fact that we are price-sensitive because we don’t have a lot of money. Transparency, a solid fee structure and service package will be key for catering to this group.
- Servicing and communications model:
How do you interact with the millennial? In general, we’re driven, we’re working late, and we might have kids. Advisors might have to go down the path of meeting afterhours, meeting after work, shooting emails and texts back and forth. We need to come up with a more flexible service model where it’s not the typical “we meet once a year and review our accounts” model.
LHP: What is the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to a young person looking to enter this industry?
MP: My dad always says to me, “You’re burning the candle at both ends,” and I think that’s a good piece of advice to tell people. You should be burning the candle at both ends. Meaning: Don’t be afraid to overextend yourself at this age. It’s how you’ll get exposure and how you get opportunities down the line.
Be involved in other projects, groups, organizations. The obvious thing is that they connect your skills and network, but most importantly, you’ll feel fulfilled. Try to do things that make you feel good.
Burn the candle at both ends. This is the time to do it. It’s OK to be selfish to put yourself in a bunch of different areas and get these learnings and experience.
Editor’s Note: Melissa Pohlig was featured on LifeHealthPro’s list, 30 under 30: Meet the millennials who are transforming the industry.